Rupert Murdoch’s fantasy

“That it is possible to charge for content on the web is obvious from the Wall Street Journal’s experience,” Rupert Murdoch told a NewsCorp quarterly conference call this week. The story of Murdoch’s intention desire to move all of his newspaper properties to a paid model got wide distribution, because, well, it’s Rupert Murdoch, and the newspaper industry is looking for a savior.

Murdoch’s problem here is one I’ve written about for years: The Wall Street Journal is a terrible example to use for a paid scenario, because subscriptions to the paper aren’t paid for by individuals. They are a business expense, and any attempt to transfer that model to other newspapers is just foolishness, to be kind. There’s no doubt Rupert Murdoch is a maverick, but in this case he’s just wrong.

He clearly has something up his sleeve, but at this point it’s just posturing for shareholders.

“We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning,” the News Corp. Chairman and CEO said.

“We have been at the forefront of that debate and you can confidently presume that we are leading the way in finding a model that maximizes revenues in return for our shareholders… The current days of the Internet will soon be over.”

That last line is intriguing and, let’s be real, wishful thinking. Murdoch can throw up pay walls and make legal moves to end the “wild” distribution of his content, but he faces two enormous problems in so doing. One, he gives up journalistic relevancy, for without the organic “spread” of information in the “current days of the Internet,” an institution of journalism cannot expect to be player in the world of cultural power. Two, regardless of what media companies do to increase the “value” of their content, the disruptions in the world of advertising will continue unabated. Madison Avenue itself is in disruption, because there’s increasingly no need for advertisers to pay the kinds of money that Murdoch wants in order to “maximize revenues…for shareholders.” Eyeballs are everywhere these days, or does Rupert have a plan to overcome that?

I like a good fantasy as much as the next guy, but my fantasies all end well. This one won’t.


  1. even i’d like to take a poke at rupert, but i just googled “fail quickly” and decided it best to advise him to give it a go.

  2. Rupert Murdock is not a stupid man, so when he says something like:

    “The current days of the Internet will soon be over”

    You have to believe he is saying something of far more overarching relevance than “all this social media, free news stuff is a passing fancy.”

    I would not be too quick to dismiss journalism institutions or advertising. What all this free stuff is doing is allowing us all to yell loudly without regard to veracity. Just because something is organic and spreads quickly, doesn’t mean it is true or authoritative. Media just needs to figure out how to regain that. Most likely it will just take patience and tenacity and let all the “new” burn off of social media.

  3. I don’t disagree, Gerald. I just think everybody is underestimating what’s happening in the world of advertising.

    And who determines veracity?

    As always, I say this is vastly more about culture than any institution therein.

  4. Data point: Murdoch has just completed the largest most efficient newspaper manufacturing plant in the world.

  5. Data point: No matter how efficient that plant is, paper, ink, and fuel for delivery still costs a lot.

  6. I completely agree with your points and would like to add that these observations..

    News on the internet is made valuable because of 2 things

    1. Social distribution of the content
    2. Social community that grows around content over time — threads of comments, link ‘verse’

    These 2 things can never be locked down and owned by rupert, they are a natural trait of the internet that accompanies anything that is posted on the internet. So if rupert locks his content behind a walled garden, then these 2 things will never fully be realized in there content. And that is something that i feel he and his minions fails to see.

    I agree that “Authoritative” content is key to the future of content, BUT i have a strong feeling Ruperts definition of authoritative is someone that is employed by him and is paid to post/research content.

    For me “Authoritative” is a role that is assigned by the consumer and is very subjective. Rupert cannot give that title to anyone he chooses. You and I as consumers of content are the ones that decide who is authoritative. Also authoritative is a role that is assigned to someone or some entity for a duration of time, see example below..

    eg. a 12 YO kid that happens to be at a scene of an accident and tapes a video of the incident is more authoritative than a pulitzer prize winner that is given second hand information of the accident.

    Rupert and his minions need to allow the free flow of content and stop trying to assume they are the authoritative source of information.

  7. Mel,
    I’m just saying that it’s always interesting to follow the money. If Rupert is investing that kind of money, you know he thinks it’s going to bring in more money than he’s putting in.


  1. The organic “spread” of information

    Terry Heaton’s subtle turn of phrase captures the most important asset that the internet provides the world — the organic “spread” of information. Terry is writing about Rupert Murdoch’s plan to move to a pay model for online content of…

  2. […] • Rupert Murdoch’s fantasy — Murdoch thinks the age of free on the Internet is over. […]

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.